Space is the new objective in our present day, North American culture. As Toronto fills up with millionaires and pushes working people asunder throughout the area around Lake Ontario, some brave enough to come as far as Peterborough, space has become the subject of discussion throughout many different communities. In my community space has always been a topic of fraught discussion. Money seems to only flow to bricks and mortar instead of people. That may be because construction and development have been the way urban centers pay for their growth. It’s an old model but the structures that give these businesses the access and power to rule have grown into almost monarch style fixtures on our financial landscape, so much so that one of their own occupies the White House.
Space however has become conceptual to many as their lives can exist through their laptop meaning that a coffee shop or a park can be a place for a business transaction. It can also be a studio or collaborative as more and more platforms allow creative people to interact online as well as in person. Many artists have turned to film and sound and music and photography or they film or record their art as a way to expand how they share what they are making – almost all can be done on a device of some sort.
But everyone who makes things needs a place to work. You need a place for your tools, a place to leave your unfinished thing so that you can sleep on how it’s going overnight, and a place you don’t need to tidy up because in fact the messy-ness can help you through a rough patch of configuring. If you write for a living you know you need quiet for great lengths of time. If you make noise you know you need to be a part from people who will complain. If you collaborate you need a place to meet. We can’t all take to the streets to figure our work out – we actually need professional places that can serve the things we are doing.
Business figured this out a long time ago and hence we have always had offices. Studios or work spaces are just as important. But buildings are not built for people, they are generally built because of investment money and the long chain of companies and individuals (who all have their own spaces) who stand to make a profit once that place is built. So, it’s never about a community or whether we need the building or not. It’s just a very pure financial transaction that only helps about ten people really. Sure there are lots of jobs and electricians and all sorts of working class heroics involved but really, at the end of the day ten people make enough money to retire, or buy a yacht or a space in some other exotic locale.
Of course there are many architects and developers who actually care and try their best to create places for people. However the ratio of them to those who don’t care is pretty lopsided. So, how do you change this? Laws. Laws that demand development take into account the nature of the community they are building in, laws that make spaces for all sorts of income levels and laws that protect creativity. “But laws will hinder investment and scare the money off!” Yes it will because we should only want the best kind of developments and the best kind of spaces. We shouldn’t compromise on our space.
People talk a lot about how we have to decolonize our culture and begin thinking differently about this and that. What we should also do is begin thinking about spaces and how they must resist the pursuit of maximized profit. Space is an area between each other – how we share it and use it helps us develop how we work with each other and eventually defines who we are and who we will become.
When I started this blog I innocently thought, hey, no one is discussing some things in the Canadian art world. Where are the public conversations about money? Are the arts councils working for us? Are artists treated fairly? How come rural artists are treated like crap? And why does no one know how to use Twitter in the art world?
Moving forward in time I found that there were lots of people who felt the same way I did and we were able to share some of the things I was writing about. I still naively believed that the art world needed a good dose of social justice and that artists would unite to recognize this. Has this happened? I am uncertain. I still maintain that these issues are relevant but social media has become a place for fighting and fighting is not what I signed up for.
I did not begin this blogging gig so that I could ‘change the world’ or ‘help people’ or get ‘popular’ or even just get some notice. I honestly thought that I was doing something constructive for myself and my friends. I thought I was helping change the channel on how art is discussed.
It all began in Yorkshire and my discovery of the Jackdaw. This zine publishes a few times a year and is written by artists and art supporters in the north who see an unfair advantage to how the arts is funded and promoted by London. I’ve written about this before but the Turner Prize is but one example of this. The prize is often awarded to artists who are pet projects of curators and arts investors who need the prize to uptick the art’s value creating a situation where money flows like confetti all over the place but not in the coffers of arts organizations that need it. This is a huge paraphrasing of the corruption – you really need to read about it in the Jackdaw – but it’s a circle of life that has been normalized which in turn has essentially killed off funding and interest in any kind of art making not associated with the Westminster zone. Austerity and now Brexit in that country has ruined not one but perhaps two generations of artists not living below the midlands. When I got back to my rural log cabin in the central Ontario I looked at the world very differently. Was this kind of thing happening here?
In a very different way it was. Money was flowing then to Luminato, Nuit Blanche and all sorts of southern Ontario artistry while most of the galleries I show in had a hard time coming up with a per diem so that we could eat while visiting their community. For awhile conversation and community sprung up around these issues and I actually thought things might be getting better but… while we wait and wait and wait for the Canada Council and Canadian Heritage to dole out money to supposedly ‘a more diverse’ amount of art the talk of art making has switched to the discussion of who should be making art. This may or may not be a discussion that will have happy consequences; all I know is that it probably stems from a community’s desperation more than anything.
If you take food away from animals they starve or eat each other. It’s just what happens.
The Brontes and Elizabeth Gaskell brought international attention to the plight of northern people and the lives of those who worked and lived in the heart of the Industrial Revolution. They were northerners (Gaskell was born in London but lived for a time in the north, the sisters were Yorkshire rural), even today they are perceived as writers from a genre, or a time and a place. But they helped pave the way for Karl Marx and George Orwell. They are world famous now and beloved but their contribution is far more reaching. Books such as Jane Eyre and Mary Barton helped bring about a labour revolution – one that we are still fighting today. I mention these writers, these artists because I think it’s folly to think that art needs to have a time and place or be of somewhere or be popular. Art has no ‘dominion’ really – it just exists and sometimes in the unlikeliest places made by the unlikeliest people. I have hope we return to these conversations at some point.